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Guide to sourcing sustainable high-quality astaxanthin

With increasing consumer awareness, customers are actively calling for increased transparency to help them make the best purchase decisions. What should customers and manufacturers look out for when choosing a quality natural astaxanthin product?

Even though astaxanthin can be produced synthetically from petrochemicals, natural astaxanthin has been shown to have significantly superior efficacy over the synthetic alternative. Astaxanthin can in theory be extracted from various types of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi but the best natural source is a fresh-water microalgae species called Haematococcus pluvialis. Not only does it yield the highest astaxanthin concentration per dry weight, but it also represents the source that has been most extensively studies as a natural health supplement.

Commercial microalgae cultivation takes many different shapes depending on local conditions and other factors. Whereas outdoor systems are cheaper to construct they are more exposed to the elements and to external contaminants. Lower productivity due to limited sunlight hours and limited light penetration also increases the vulnerability of the microalgae culture to contamination. At the other end of the spectrum you have indoor cultivation in closed photobioreactor systems. These systems operate 24/7 with full parameter control and light optimization. This in turn leads to highly superior productivity – one of the key factors in keeping out unwanted biological contaminants.

Sustainability has become a key component in the decision-making process behind choosing the right natural ingredients for a specific product. The two key components in relation to algae cultivation are energy and water source. Access to renewable energy such as geothermal or hydroelectricity is vital to securing the overall sustainability profile of the finished product. Water is the single most important ingredient in any type of fresh-water algae cultivation. Therefore, plentiful availability of untreated water with the right chemical composition is a very important factor to consider. In addition, water and energy use for cooling is big part of the sustainability equation. A location with low, stable temperatures, minimizes energy use for cooling and cultivation systems with low evaporation rates such as indoor systems minimize water use.

The specific contamination risks to consider for algae-derived ingredients range from cultivation-based sources such as heavy metal levels, pesticides and pathogenic biological contaminants to process-based contamination such as plasticizers and PAH’s. Microalgae have very high biosorption capabilities meaning that they accumulate trace amounts of contaminants such as heavy metals that can be found in the local water source. Routine monitoring and testing of all potential contamination sources, both during cultivation and post-processing is therefore a very important quality aspect of producing a pure, effective product. Such monitoring should take place within a recognized quality control framework such as cGMP.

Taken together, these guidelines point towards choosing natural algae-derived astaxanthin. The best way to ensure a pure, high quality product is to have full control over all cultivation parameters and this can only be achieved with indoor cultivation. The location plays a critical part in the sustainability profile and therefor cultivation should take place where access to plentiful clean water and renewable energy inputs is secure. Finally, making sure that the production facility is cGMP certified and adheres to all other quality control guidelines will help the consumer choose the best natural astaxanthin source.

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